Alabama Chief Justice warns of layoffs under Riley budget
By Bob Lowry, Huntsville Times
January 26, 2010
MONTGOMERY -- Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb blasted Gov. Bob Riley's General Fund budget plan Tuesday, saying it would lead to the layoff of between 500 to 600 court personnel statewide.
In her state-of-the-judiciary address to a joint session of the Alabama Legislature, Cobb said when Riley assured there would be no cuts under his budgets, that only applied to executive branch.
Cobb said Riley told lawmakers in his state-of-the state address there would be no cuts in the General Fund and there would be additional funding in the Education Trust Fund Budget.
"Now that does not sound like we have a crisis," she said. "Unfortunately, the governor neglected to mention there would be substantial cuts for everyone outside the executive branch -- the Legislature, other constitutional offices and the courts."
Under Riley's budget, which would be propped up by an anticipated second round of federal stimulus funds, Cobb said the court system -- from the trial courts to the Supreme Court -- would take a 12 percent cut.
"That might not seem like a financial crisis to the governor, but tell that to the 500 to 600 court employees who would be laid off if the Legislature allows the governor's proposed budget to stand," she said.
Cobb said the Legislative Fiscal Office has told her both budgets would be in proration in 2011 without factoring in federal stimulus money still pending in Congress.
"With the governor's proposed budget, we will be no more than a judicial triage center, trying merely to stabilize those on the verge of death and leaving others to languish in pain and suffering," she said.
Cobb called it "an access to justice issue."
"Is it fair for citizens in some counties to go in front of a judge with 500 cases as opposed to citizens in Madison County going before a judge who has 2,700 cases?"
Jeff Emerson, Riley's chief spokesman, said finance officials in August asked all agency heads to put the brakes on spending, but Cobb did not comply.
Emerson said the administration had several meetings with Cobb and her accounting team, but she refused to make recommended changes.
"We hope she will change her mind and begin making the needed adjustments so layoffs won't be necessary," he added.
Rep. Marcel Black, D-Tuscumbia, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said Riley's budget is "overly optimistic and not in touch with reality."
He acknowledged the court system is likely to face cuts under any budget, but it will cause a backlog in civil and criminal cases statewide.
Sen. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, vice-chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Riley's budget would be "devastating to the courts all across Alabama.
"If the truth is known, he (Riley) left out a lot of state agencies if he's betting his budget on what President Obama and the Congress is going to send us," he said. "I hope he's right, but I don't think he is."
Bedford, who is chairman of the Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee, said Riley might have to resubmit his budget "using realistic numbers."
Riley's budget is based on projections that Congress will send the state another $1 billion in stimulus funds, with $500 million going to transportation.
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Former Justice O’Connor Sees Ill in Election Finance Ruling
By ADAM LIPTAK, The New York Times
January 27, 2010
WASHINGTON— Justice Sandra Day O’Connor did not sound happy on Tuesday about the Supreme Court’s big campaign finance decision last week. It repudiated a major part of a ruling Justice O’Connor helped write before her retirement from the court in 2006, and it complicated her recent efforts to do away with judicial elections.
“Gosh,” she said, “I step away for a couple of years and there’s no telling what’s going to happen.”
Justice O’Connor criticized the recent decision, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, only obliquely, reminding the audience that she had been among the authors of McConnell v. Federal Election Commission, the 2003 decision that was overruled in large part on Thursday.
“If you want my legal opinion” about Citizens United, Justice O’Connor said, “you can go read” McConnell.
Justice O’Connor gave her thoughts at a conference at Georgetown University Law Center on judicial selection in the aftermath of Citizens United and last year’s Supreme Court decision on judicial recusal, Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal Co.
She has become increasingly vocal in recent years about doing away with judicial elections. Most states elect at least some of their judges; federal judges are appointed.
“Judicial elections are just difficult to justify in a constitutional democracy in which even the majority is bound by the law’s restraints,” Justice O’Connor said Tuesday.
She added that last week’s decision was likely to create “an increasing problem for maintaining an independent judiciary.”
“In invalidating some of the existing checks on campaign spending,” Justice O’Connor said, “the majority in Citizens United has signaled that the problem of campaign contributions in judicial elections might get considerably worse and quite soon.”
In last year’s Caperton decision, the Supreme Court ruled that a State Supreme Court justice in West Virginia who had been elected with the help of millions of dollars in campaign spending from a coal executive should have disqualified himself from a case involving the executive’s company.
“These two cases,” Justice O’Connor said, referring to Citizens United and Caperton, “should be a warning to states that still choose their judges by popular election.”
Then she sketched out what the future might hold.
“We can anticipate that labor unions and trial lawyers, for instance, might have the financial means to win one particular state judicial election,” she said. “And maybe tobacco firms and energy companies have enough to win the next one.
“And if both sides unleash their campaign spending monies without restrictions, then I think mutually-assured destruction is the most likely outcome.”
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States Weigh Judicial Recusals - Some Judges, Businesses Oppose Restrictions on Cases Involving Campaign Contributors
By NATHAN KOPPEL, The Wall Street Journal
January 26, 2010
More states are responding to a longstanding concern that elected judges risk the appearance of bias when they hear cases involving their campaign contributors. But recent examples from Wisconsin and Nevada show that some states are reluctant to force judges to disqualify themselves from cases solely because they have received large contributions.
The U.S. Supreme Court last year prompted states to tackle the issue of potential bias after it held in a case involving Justice Brent Benjamin of West Virginia that judges may need to recuse themselves when parties that have spent substantial sums to help elect the judges appear before them. The court, in a landmark opinion Thursday, eliminated limits on campaign spending by corporations.
About 10 states, including California and Texas, have proposed new judicial-disqualification rules in the wake of last year's Supreme Court ruling. But overhaul efforts have met resistance from judges and businesses who oppose restraints on judges' ability to raise campaign funds and on voters' rights to financially support favored candidates. Critics say an array of people would be less likely to donate to campaigns should these types of laws be put on the books.
A case involving Justice Brent Benjamin of West Virginia, shown in 2008, has prompted states to tackle the issue of bias.
"States are looking at recusal more seriously, but most are not yet creating more rigorous recusal practices," says Charles Geyh, a law professor at Indiana University who specializes in judicial-ethics issues.
Last Thursday, Wisconsin rebuffed calls for recusal when contributions exceed a certain amount. The state's Supreme Court amended the state's Code of Judicial Conduct to specify that judges were not required to step aside in cases based solely on the fact that they have received lawful campaign contributions or expenditures from parties involved in the case. The court rejected competing proposals that would have required disqualification if judges had received contributions of $1,000 or $10,000 from parties.
In written comments supporting the state's new disqualification standards, Supreme Court Justice David Prosser Jr. said it would be improper to "deprive citizens who lawfully contribute to judicial campaigns…of access to the judges they help elect." In an interview, he added: "I think the national recusal movement is an effort to so gum up [judicial] elections that we are almost forced into an alternative, such as appointing judges." At the state level, judges are chosen by election or appointment.
Andrea Kaminski, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, says the state court's decision not to require recusals will "further erode the public's confidence in the courts." As it stands, she says, "contributions are not automatically grounds for recusal, no matter how much is spent."
The Nevada Code of Judicial Conduct was amended Jan. 19 by the court to require judges to disqualify themselves whenever their "impartiality might reasonably be questioned." The Nevada Supreme Court court rejected an two alternate proposals: A judge would have to recuse himself when he gets campaign support of $50,000, or when he . Yet another proposal rejected by the court would have requiredreceives 5% or more of his total campaign funding from a party or law firm in a case.
"Those [alternate] rules would have created clarity and greater public confidence in courts," says Jeffrey Stempel, a professor at the William S. Boyd School of Law in Las Vegas who served on a commission charged with recommending changes to the state's code of judicial conduct. The Nevada Supreme Court, Mr. Stempel says, "missed an opportunity to strike a blow for judicial impartiality." The Nevada Supreme Court did not return a call for comment.
Legislators in Texas and Montana last year proposed bright-line monetary triggers for recusal, but the proposed measures did not pass.
The Michigan Supreme Court, meanwhile, last year adopted stricter recusal standards than it had earlier, including a rule that a supreme court justice's decision denying a motion to step aside in a case may be reviewed by other justices on the court.
Last Thursday's landmark opinion heightens the need for strict disqualification rules, says J. Adam Skaggs, an attorney with the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, which is in favor of the public financing of judicial candidates. The ruling "will only exacerbate the trend of escalating, arms-race spending in judicial elections as corporations, unions and special interests seek to buy control of the bench," he says.
"If you are going to elect judges, you can't cut off their speech rights," counters Bradley Smith, chairman of the Center for Competitive Politics, which opposes campaign-spending limits. "The ability to raise money and get your message out is an element of speech."
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NU forgives loans of law alumni working in public sector
The Evanston Review (Illinois)
January 26, 2010
Northwestern University's new Public Service Fellowship program is offering 100 percent forgiveness of federal student loans for alumni who work as attorneys or managers in the public sector for 10 years, the school announced Tuesday.
The new program works with two new federal loan repayment plans, Income Based Repayment and the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, to collectively address the financial hardships of those pursuing public interest careers, according to a release from Northwestern.
The NU program also offers additional financial help during the first five years of loan assistance to assure those who pursue work in the private sector before they have completed 10 years in the public sector can still make headway. It takes into consideration education debt along with salary, so graduates who face the most significant financial obstacles receive the greatest benefits.
As part of the College Cost Reduction Act of 2007, the repayment program reduces federal loan payments to about 10 percent of annual income, according to the release. After 10 years of work in the public sector, the federal government will forgive 100 percent of the remaining balance.
The NU program will cover annual repayment program payments in most cases, resulting in 100 percent forgiveness of federal law school loans for those who remain in the public sector for 10 years.
The program will go into effect immediately for students who graduate this spring. Graduates of the classes of 2008, 2009 and 2010 may choose between an existing program or the new one.
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Lack of funds closes foreclosure defense office
by Kimberly Morrison, Jacksonville Business Journal (Florida)
January 26, 2010
Jacksonville Area Legal Aid on Tuesday said it was folding its two-year-old foreclosure defense program due to lack of funding.
Project House-Hold, a satellite office with two attorneys who zeroed in on ZIP codes with high rates of foreclosures, is closing today at 1 p.m. The community-based law firm provided civil legal assistance to the city’s low-income populations through a period of record-high foreclosure rates, increasing by 56 percent from 2008 to 2009.
“Since opening in October 2008, the two attorneys who have staffed the office have fielded more than a thousand phone calls, have helped hundreds of homeowners and have litigated dozens of cases,” JALA said in a statement.
Of those who sought assistance, 97 percent received some form of formal service from the office, either legal representation, legal advice, foreclosure counseling or resource linking. The office also helped clients from becoming victims of housing-related scams.
Chamber of Commerce Promises "Most Aggressive" Election Campaign Ever
The Legal Times (Washington D.C.)
January 12, 2010
U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and Chief Executive Officer Thomas Donohue promised the group's "largest, most aggressive" campaign ever around the 2010 elections. In a warning to legislators, Donohue said the Chamber is "going to be in a lot of politics in the House and the Senate" and judicial elections.
"As Americans choose a new House and new senators this fall, the Chamber will highlight lawmakers and candidates who support" its priorities, he said. Donohue's remarks were delivered as part of his annual State of American Business address Tuesday morning.
He also warned that government efforts to regulate the financial system, overhaul health care and revamp taxes could have unintended economic consequences.
Donohue downplayed reports of tension between the Chamber and the Obama administration at a press conference after his speech, stressing that the Chamber is "not in presidential politics," and saying that "the Chamber's not had a problem with the White House...we have people from the administration in this building almost every day."
But in his speech, he took on much of the administration's agenda, including the health care overhaul - remarks backed up by the $50 million-plus the Chamber spent on lobbying during the first three quarters of 2009. "The legislation emerging from the House and Senate is not reform," he said of the health care overhaul currently the subject of legislative negotiations. And the climate change bill passed by the House last year "would tie economic activity in knots and eliminate jobs from one end of the country to another. That's why a growing number of Democrats in the Senate are running from this approach just as fast as they can."
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Recession Spurs Interest in Graduate, Law Schools
By REBECCA R. RUIZ, The New York Times
January 10, 2010
It took longer than some experts expected, but the recession and the resulting shortage of good jobs have spurred a jump in applications to law schools and a growing interest in graduate programs.
The number of people taking the Law School Admissions Test, for example, rose 20 percent in October, compared with October 2008, reaching an all-time high of 60,746. And the number of Americans who took the Graduate Record Examination in 2009 rose 13 percent, to a record 670,000, compared with the year before, according to the Educational Testing Service, which administers the test. The increase is a sharp reversal from 2008, when the number fell 2 percent even though the recession was already under way.
“There’s a bit of lag time between when people start to worry about the economy and when they get their applications going,” said Wendy Margolis, director of communications for the Law School Admission Council, which administers the L.S.A.T.
Jeffrey S. Brand, dean of the University of San Francisco School of Law, echoed that view.
“I think the crash was so severe that people were kind of catatonic,” Mr. Brand said. “They weren’t sure what to do. They’re coming out of that mode now.”
David G. Payne, the Educational Testing Service’s vice president and chief operating officer for college and graduate programs, said the rise in interest in graduate programs was tied to the troubled economy and increased school recruiting.
“When job creation slows, there’s an increase in the number of people who pursue a graduate degree,” Mr. Payne said.
Officials at many law schools reported substantial increases in applications over last year. Washington University in St. Louis has had a 19 percent year-to-date increase in applications to its college of law. At the University of San Francisco School of Law, applications are up 35 percent over last year, and at the University of Iowa’s College of Law, applications are up 39 percent.
Some increases are more explicable than others. Applications to the Maurer School of Law at Indiana University have risen 54 percent this year, which may be related to its rise in the U.S. News & World Report rankings to 23 in 2009, from 36 the year before.
But at Cornell University’s Law School, whose ranking has remained relatively stable, applications are up 44 percent, and no one is quite sure of the reason for such a large increase.
Richard Geiger, dean of admissions, said: “I’m a little thrown off by the fact that our increase is much bigger than expected. There’s nothing big we’re doing to explain that kind of increase.”
Prebble Q. Ramswell, 37, is among those choosing to return to school after being unable to find work.
A mother with two bachelor’s degrees, one in political science and the other in psychology and sociology, Ms. Ramswell has nearly 10 years of work experience, including six years as an intelligence analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency.
Ms. Ramswell lost her job with the C.I.A. when her contract ended last spring. She and her husband, who had also worked for the C.I.A., were both unemployed.
“We were having such a difficult time finding work,” she said. After months of searching, her husband found work in Florida, and the couple and their 4-year-old daughter moved there from Northern Virginia.
“I still had no luck finding anything, so I said to myself, ‘What is it in my life that I have wanted to do, that could make something good of a situation that has turned horribly wrong?’ ”
Ms. Ramswell is now applying for a master’s degree in liberal arts, looking to leverage her background in social science and, ultimately, to become a psychotherapist.
“I’ve realized that it will make me more marketable and open more doors,” she said.
Stephanie E. Neal, 24, also said she was hoping to increase her appeal to employers by returning to school. She graduated from college with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and sociology in 2008 and has since completed a paralegal certificate and a victim’s assistance certificate. But she has been unemployed since May and is now preparing to take the G.R.E. She lives with her parents in Southern California and said “desperation” has pushed her back toward academia.
“With every job going to someone who has more experience and who is willing to take a pay cut to have a job, I’m left with what amounts to slim pickings,” she said. “With no income, I’ve turned to the idea of higher education.”
Collins Byrd, dean of admissions at the University of Iowa’s College of Law, said he had seen many applicants like Ms. Neal.
“I think people spent the past year in a bit of shell shock,” Mr. Byrd said. “I don’t think people applied at as high a rate because they just didn’t know what to do. They sat there and did nothing.
“Now they’re seeing what they can do, seeing if they can take out loans or mortgages on housing. I think people are coming to grips with reality.”
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No more room at the bench – [Op-Ed]
By Mark Greenbaum, The Los Angeles Times
January 8, 2010
The American Bar Assn. allows unneeded new law schools to open and refuses to regulate them. The government should consider taking steps to stop the flow of attorneys into a saturated marketplace.
Remember the old joke about 20,000 lawyers at the bottom of the sea being "a good start"? Well, in an interesting twist, thousands of lawyers now find themselves drowning in the unemployment line as the legal sector is being badly saturated with attorneys.
Part of the problem can be traced to the American Bar Assn., which continues to allow unneeded new schools to open and refuses to properly regulate the schools, many of which release numbers that paint an overly rosy picture of employment prospects for their recent graduates. There is a finite number of jobs for lawyers, and this continual flood of graduates only suppresses wages. Because the ABA has repeatedly signaled its unwillingness to adapt to this changing reality, the federal government should consider taking steps to stop the rapid flow of attorneys into a marketplace that cannot sustain them.
From 2004 through 2008, the field grew less than 1% per year on average, going from 735,000 people making a living as attorneys to just 760,000, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics postulating that the field will grow at the same rate through 2016. Taking into account retirements, deaths and that the bureau's data is pre-recession, the number of new positions is likely to be fewer than 30,000 per year. That is far fewer than what's needed to accommodate the 45,000 juris doctors graduating from U.S. law schools each year.
This jobs gap is even more problematic given the rising cost of tuition. In 2008, the median tuition at state schools for nonresidents was $26,000 a year, and $34,000 for private schools -- and much higher in some states, such as California. Students racked up an average loan debt in 2007-08 of $59,000 for students from public law schools and $92,000 for those from private schools, according to the ABA, and a recent Law School Survey of Student Engagement found that nearly one-third of respondents said they would owe about $120,000.
Such debt would be manageable if a world of lucrative jobs awaited the newly minted attorneys, but this is not the case. A recent working paper by Herwig Schlunk of Vanderbilt Law School contends that with the exception of some of those at the best schools, going for a law degree is a bad investment and that most students will be "unlikely ever to dig themselves out from" under their debt. This problem is exacerbated by the existing law school system.
Despite the tough job market, new schools continue to sprout like weeds. Today there are 200 ABA-accredited law schools in the U.S., with more on the way, as many have been awarded provisional accreditation. In California alone, there are 21 law schools that are either accredited or provisionally accredited, including the new one at UC Irvine.
The ABA cites antitrust concerns in refusing to block new schools, taking a weak approach to regulation. For example, in 2008 the ABA created an accreditation task force to study the need for changes, but saddled it with a narrow charter. In the end, it proposed only cosmetic changes and rejected out of hand the possibility of giving up control over accreditation, calling the idea not viable and "draconian."
The task force also raised the possibility that if the ABA gave up its accreditation authority, the Federalist Society, a conservative-leaning interest group, could take over that job. This is an intellectually dishonest red herring, likely injected to divert attention from the idea's merits. The Federalist Society would have no reason to do this because the technical, expensive accrediting process does not gibe with its mission, nor would the Department of Education be likely to give it such authority.
The ABA has also refused to create and oversee an independent method of reporting graduate data. Postgraduate employment information generally provides the most useful facts for prospective students to study in deciding whether to go to law school.
In many cases, the data that schools now furnish are based on self-reported information, skewing the results because unemployed and low-paying grads are less likely to report back. Law schools do this because they want the rosiest picture possible for the influential rankings given by U.S. News & World Report. Despite its ample resources, the ABA has rebuffed calls to monitor the schools to get more accurate data, calling the existing framework an effective "honor system."
Based on what happened with the accreditation task force, the ABA is not likely to force change; it is too intertwined with the law schools. ABA groups -- such as the task force, which was chaired by a former dean -- are stacked with school officials who have no incentive to change the status quo. This is why the ABA should get out of the accreditation business completely.
Unlike other professional fields such as medicine and public health, whose preeminent professional organizations do not have control over the accreditation of schools and programs, the ABA exercises unfettered power over the accreditation of law schools.
The American Dental Assn., the nation's leading dental group, offers a model for the ABA to follow. It accredits schools but assiduously guards the profession and has allowed respected dental schools such as the ones at Emory, Georgetown and Northwestern to close for economic reasons and to prevent market saturation. Such a move by the bar association would be unprecedented. Dental schools go even further to protect the profession's integrity by collectively boycotting the U.S. News rankings.
The U.S. Department of Education should strip the ABA of its accreditor status and give the authority to an organization that is free of conflicts of interest, such as the Assn. of American Law Schools or a new group. Although the AALS is made up of law schools, it is an independent, nonprofit, academic -- not professional -- group, which could be expected to maintain the viability and status of the profession, properly regulate law schools, curtail the opening of new programs and perhaps even shut down unneeded schools. The AALS has cast a very skeptical eye on for-profit schools, compared with the ABA's weak hands-off accreditation policies.
Although these would be unprecedented moves, they are necessary. The legal profession must be saved from itself.
Mark Greenbaum is an attorney and writer in Washington.
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Courts face '10 budget cuts
By Dennis Sherer, TimesDaily.com
December 27, 2009
Still reeling from budget cutbacks in 2002, judges and circuit court clerks in the Shoals are concerned about additional cuts that could come in 2010.
With the recession taking a toll on state budgets, Administrative Office of Courts officials are warning judges and circuit clerks throughout Alabama to brace for possible spending cuts. The cuts could slow the flow of paperwork through the court system or postpone some trials.
"We don't know what to expect," said Callie Dietz, administrative director of courts in Alabama. "The governor and finance director have told us there could be proration in 2010, but they are not sure how much it might be. If there is proration, we will have to cut employees. We don't have programs that we can cut or buildings that we would close. It's a dire situation."
Dietz said 97 percent of the Office of Court's budget goes to payroll.
Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb has said the court system might have to lay off 500 to 600 workers if its budget is cut 9 percent as Gov. Bob Riley has warned. About 2,600 people work in the court system statewide. The Legislature appropriated $186.7 million to Alabama's trial and appellate courts for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. The appropriation was an increase from the scaled-backed budget of $180.3 million in fiscal 2009.
"We're already as lean as we can be. There is no fat left to cut. If we make any more cuts, we're going to be cutting bone," said Franklin County Circuit Court Judge Terry Dempsey. "I have a judicial assistant and court reporter in my office, and the law requires me to have both. I have no employees I can cut."
Colbert County Circuit Court Judge Hal Hughston also has only a judicial assistant and a court reporter, and said he must keep them both.
"In the judicial system, we've got pencils, paper and people," said Lauderdale County Circuit Court Judge Mike Jones. "We don't waste any paper and pencils, and I need every employee I have. They're already working 90-to-nothing all day every day just trying to keep up with the caseload."
Dietz said most judges operate with minimal staff.
"Lauderdale County is already down four people from what they had before the layoffs in 2002," she said. "Colbert County is down three people. It's going to be tough for either of those offices to lose any more employees."
If layoffs are ordered, Dietz said, the Office of Courts might allow judges and circuit clerks to close their offices to the public at least one day per month to allow remaining employees an opportunity to catch up on their paperwork.
Another option would be to cancel civil trials as the state did amid spending cuts in 2002. Dietz said suspending civil trials that require a jury would do little to reduce spending as jurors earn only $10 per day. If the state were to suspend all civil trials for one year, it would save only $400,000. Criminal trials cannot be suspended since the law guarantees a speedy trial for suspected criminals.
Dietz said some counties already ask jurors to volunteer to forfeit their pay. If every juror statewide were to volunteer to serve without pay, it would save the state $2 million per year.
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ABA Presses the Case for Loan Relief for Law Graduates
David Ingram, The National Law Journal
Neither the Obama administration nor Congress has gone along with a proposal from the American Bar Association to help some recent law school graduates defer their student loans. But that doesn't mean the ABA has stopped pushing.
ABA President Carolyn Lamm said last week that the association is still trying to build support for student-loan relief for recent graduates. The National Law Journal reported in November that the ABA was lobbying the Obama administration on the issue, highlighting the plight of graduates who went into debt but have not found jobs because of the recession.
"What we can't have is this situation of a generation of young lawyers squashed by debt," said Lamm, a Washington, D.C., partner at White & Case.
Lamm said that she or other ABA officials have met with aides on Capitol Hill, at the U.S. Department of Education and in the White House to press their case, so far without success. "Wherever we have an opportunity, we share our views," she said. "They're very interested in education. They're very interested in finding a way to help. I can't say that we've found a solution yet."
One pool of money the ABA has suggested is the $700 billion bailout of the financial sector, known as the Troubled Asset Relief Program. TARP is scheduled to remain in place through October 2010, but Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said this month that he would limit the funds to only a few areas, including prevention of home foreclosures and lending to small and community banks.
This month, Congress approved two major appropriations bills to pay for the federal government's operations through September 2010. Neither included money for law graduates' student loans.
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Jobless Gen Ys Turn To Grad School - Some may be disappointed, since they're studying for shrinking professions
Deb Weinstein, FORBES.com
December 21, 2009
The recession is driving up demand for at least one expensive service: graduate education. So far this year there has been a 13% increase in U.S. students taking the Graduate Record Exams, the Educational Testing Service reports. That comes after a dip in 2008 test takers.
Some of the 2009 increase may reflect the fact that more business schools are accepting the GREs, as well as the traditional Graduate Management Admissions Test, from applicants for MBA programs. But the Graduate Management Admissions Council, which administers the GMAT, has also seen an increase in test takers; for the year ended June 30, 173,441 people looking to apply to an MBA program took the GMAT, a 4.9% jump from the previous year.
What's surprising is that the rush to graduate school seems insensitive to either negative publicity or dismal job prospects. The vilification of Wall Street and bankers doesn't have students shunning business programs.
Despite woes in the legal profession, a record 60,746 aspiring attorneys took the Law School Admission Test this October--a 20% spike from 2008, notes tax law blogger Paul Caron, who headed one blog entry "Law School Is A Bad Investment". This jump comes on top of a 5% increase in applicants to law school for admission this past fall, according to the Law School Admission Council. (Significantly, that increase came after four years of pre-recession declines.)
The rush to law school comes despite the fact that some big law firms have so little need for new associates that they have been paying new graduates they've made job offers to a stipend to go off and do volunteer work.
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Monument to Judge Toulmin dedicated today in Baldwin County
By Craig Myers. Mobile Press-Register
December 21, 2009
BAY MINETTE -- Llewellyn "Lew" M. Toulmin is proud that his legally and politically influential ancestor, Judge Harry Toulmin, is now memorialized with the stone marker and bronze plaque unveiled today at the Baldwin County Courthouse.
A bronze plaque highlighting the accomplishments of Judge Harry Toulmin was dedicated today at the Baldwin County Courthouse. But it is words on paper written by his great-great-great-great-grandfather that reveal how the jurist was able to influence early U.S. history from the rugged wilderness of southwest Alabama, Lew Toulmin said.
"I esteem it to be the duty of a public officer not only to discharge the immediate duties of his station, but to be ready at all times, and at all times anxious, to devote his time and talents to his country's good," reads the letter he recently discovered dated November 1804 -- the year Toulmin was appointed by President Thomas Jefferson as judge for a territory that included what is now Baldwin County.
"That encapsulates his approach to public service," said Lew Toulmin, an international banking consultant from Silver Spring, Md., who lives several months of the year in Fairhope. "He was so multi-talented and took on so many difficult tasks. He prevented war with Spain and helped bring civilization and peace to this area."
Toulmin was among nearly 75 people participating in today's ceremony, the last official event of Baldwin County's bicentennial year. It was held on the anniversary date of the county's founding in 1809.
The group included Baldwin County Circuit Judges James Reid, Charles Partin and J. Langford Floyd, District Attorney Judy Newcomb, Sheriff Huey "Hoss" Mack, state Sen. Trip Pittman and state Rep. Steve McMillan, among other local officials. Phillip McCallum, vice president of the Alabama State Bar, was also on hand.
Judge Toulmin (1766-1823) worked to stop several groups intent on seizing West Florida from Spanish control.
If the Spanish land grab had been successful, it likely would have drawn the young United States of America into another war, said Fairhope attorney and local historian David Bagwell.
"Everyone was afraid we were going to have war with Spain and the only guy who kept that from happening was Harry Toulmin," Bagwell told the crowd.
His interference with the so-called West Florida Revolution of 1810 resulted in him being very unpopular with residents of his territory and likely prevented him from receiving a federal judgeship for Alabama when it achieved statehood in 1819, Bagwell said.
"He was a great believer in people complying with the law, even though it cost him greatly," Bagwell said after the event. "He did his duty anyway."
The $3,000 marker paid for by county commissioners' contingency funds lists Toulmin's accomplishments -- Unitarian minister, president of Transylvania University in Kentucky, author of a collection of Alabama laws and Baldwin's sole delegate to the state Constitutional Convention.
And most significantly, it notes that he was the judge who issued the arrest warrant for Aaron Burr. Had the former vice president succeeded in his reported plan to carve out a settlement in Louisiana, it also could have led to war, according to historians.
Burr was taken into custody Feb. 20, 1807, in what is now Washington County, then transferred by boat to Boatyard Lake in present-day Baldwin County.
Burr -- most well known as the man who fatally shot former Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton in a New Jersey duel -- was taken to Richmond, Va., where he was acquitted on charges of treason.
Other descendants of Judge Toulmin attended Monday's ceremony, including Gaynor Turner of Fairhope and Stephen Moore of Montrose.
Turner said she was happy the county has honored her ancestor, a man who showed the kind of integrity as a public servant that often is in "short supply."
Moore agreed and said the public attention is overdue.
"To have him still be remembered is a tribute to his gifts to the state of Alabama," Moore said.
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A Nation of Do-It-Yourself Lawyers – [Op-Ed]
By JOHN T. BRODERICK Jr. and RONALD M. GEORGE, The New York Times
January 2, 2010
AMERICA’S courts are built on a system of rules and procedures that assume that almost everyone who comes to court has a lawyer. Unfortunately, the reality is quite different. An increasing number of civil cases go forward without lawyers. Litigants who cannot afford a lawyer, and either do not qualify for legal aid or are unable to have a lawyer assigned to them because of dwindling budgets, are on their own — pro se. What’s more, they’re often on their own in cases involving life-altering situations like divorce, child custody and loss of shelter.
As the economy has worsened, the ranks of the self-represented poor have expanded. In a recent informal study conducted by the Self-Represented Litigation Network, about half the judges who responded reported a greater number of pro se litigants as a result of the economic crisis. Unrepresented litigants now also include many in the middle class and small-business owners who unexpectedly find themselves in distress and without sufficient resources to pay for the legal assistance they need.
As judges, we believe more needs to be done to meet this growing challenge: an inaccessible, overburdened justice system serves none of us well. California took a major step forward in October when it became the first state to recognize as a goal the right to counsel in certain civil cases. (The state also committed to a pilot project, financed by court fees, to provide lawyers for low-income citizens in cases where basic human needs are at stake.)
But this is only a beginning. It is essential that we promote other efforts to close the “justice gap.”
One such effort involves the “unbundling” of legal services. Forty-one states, including California and New Hampshire, have adopted a model rule drafted by the American Bar Association, or similar provisions, which allow lawyers to unbundle their services and take only part of a case, a cost-saving practice known as “limited-scope representation” that, with proper ethical safeguards, is responsive to new realities.
Traditionally, lawyers have been required to stay with a case from beginning to end, unless a court has excused them from this obligation. Now, in those states that explicitly or implicitly allow unbundling, people or businesses can hire a lawyer on a limited basis to help them fill out forms, to prepare documents, to coach them on how to present in court or to appear in court for one or two hearings.
For example, a lawyer could advise a client in a divorce proceeding about legal principles governing the division of marital assets or provide assistance in calculating child-support obligations. A lawyer might also draft pleadings or legal memos or provide representation at a hearing to obtain a domestic-violence restraining order.
What could be wrong with this? Well, some lawyers have expressed concern that limited legal representation will encourage litigants to dissect their cases in an effort to save money, sacrificing quality representation that the litigant might otherwise be able to afford. We have also heard the argument that by offering too much assistance to self-represented litigants, the courts themselves are undermining the value of lawyers and the legal profession. Apparently, some are concerned that the court system will become so user-friendly that there will be no need for lawyers.
We respectfully disagree. Litigants who can afford the services of a lawyer will continue to use one until a case or problem is resolved. Lawyers make a difference and clients know that. But for those whose only option is to go it alone, at least some limited, affordable time with a lawyer is a valuable option we should all encourage.
In fact, we believe that limited-scope-representation rules will allow lawyers — especially sole practitioners — to service people who might otherwise have never sought legal assistance. We also believe that carefully drafted ethical rules allowing lawyers to handle part of a case give the legal profession an opportunity to help the courts address the ever-growing number of litigants who cross our thresholds. This cause has special relevance now as state courts are faced with serious cutbacks in financing, forcing some to close their doors one day a week or a month, lay off front-line staff members and delay jury trials. None of this bodes well for the judicial system or for those seeking to vindicate their rights through the courts, whether they have a lawyer or not.
We need members of the legal profession to join with us, as many have done, in meeting this challenge by making unbundled legal services and other innovative solutions — like self-help Web sites, online assistance programs and court self-help centers — work for all who need them. If we are to maintain public trust and confidence in the courts, we must keep faith with our founding principles and our core belief in equal justice under the law.
John T. Broderick Jr. is the chief justice of New Hampshire. Ronald M. George is the chief justice of California.
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Law School Admissions Lag Among Minorities
By TAMAR LEWIN, The New York Times
January 7, 2010
While law schools added about 3,000 seats for first-year students from 1993 to 2008, both the percentage and the number of black and Mexican-American law students declined in that period, according to a study by a Columbia Law School professor.
What makes the declines particularly troubling, said the professor, Conrad Johnson, is that in that same period, both groups improved their college grade-point averages and their scores on the Law School Admission Test, or L.S.A.T.
“Even though their scores and grades are improving, and are very close to those of white applicants, African-Americans and Mexican-Americans are increasingly being shut out of law schools,” said Mr. Johnson, who oversees the Lawyering in the Digital Age Clinic at Columbia, which collaborated with the Society of American Law Teachers to examine minority enrollment rates at American law schools.
However, Hispanics other than Mexicans and Puerto Ricans made slight gains in law school enrollment.
The number of black and Mexican-American students applying to law school has been relatively constant, or growing slightly, for two decades. But from 2003 to 2008, 61 percent of black applicants and 46 percent of Mexican-American applicants were denied acceptance at all of the law schools to which they applied, compared with 34 percent of white applicants.
“What’s happening, as the American population becomes more diverse, is that the lawyer corps and judges are remaining predominantly white,” said John Nussbaumer, associate dean of Thomas M. Cooley Law School’s campus in Auburn Hills, Mich., which enrolls an unusually high percentage of African-American students.
Mr. Nussbaumer, who has been looking at the same minority-representation numbers, independently of the Columbia clinic, has become increasingly concerned about the large percentage of minority applicants shut out of law schools.
“A big part of it is that many schools base their admissions criteria not on whether students have a reasonable chance of success, but how those L.S.A.T. numbers are going to affect their rankings in the U.S. News & World Report,” Mr. Nussbaumer said. “Deans get fired if the rankings drop, so they set their L.S.A.T. requirements very high.
“We’re living proof that it doesn’t have to be that way, that those students with the slightly lower L.S.A.T. scores can graduate, pass the bar and be terrific lawyers.”
Margaret Martin Barry, co-president of the Society of American Law Teachers, said that while she understood the importance of rankings, law schools must address the issue of diversity. “If you’re so concerned with rankings, you’re going to lose a whole generation,” she said.
The Columbia study found that among the 46,500 law school matriculants in the fall of 2008, there were 3,392 African-Americans, or 7.3 percent, and 673 Mexican-Americans, or 1.4 percent. Among the 43,520 matriculants in 1993, there were 3,432 African-Americans, or 7.9 percent, and 710 Mexican-Americans, or 1.6 percent. The study, whose findings are detailed at the Web site A Disturbing Trend in Law School Diversity, relied on the admission council’s minority categories, which track Mexican-Americans separately from Puerto Ricans and Hispanic/Latino students.
“We focused on the two groups, African-Americans and Mexican-Americans, who did not make progress in law school representation during the period,” Mr. Johnson said. “The Hispanic/Latino group did increase, from 3.1 percent of the matriculants in 1993, to 5.1 percent in 2008.”
Mr. Johnson said he did not have a good explanation for the disparity, particularly since the 2008 LSAT scores among Mexican-Americans were, on average, one point higher than those of the Hispanics, and one point lower in 1993.
Over all, Mr. Johnson said, it is puzzling that minority enrollment in law schools has fallen, even since the United States Supreme Court ruled in 2003, in Grutter v. Bollinger, that race can be taken into account in law school admissions because the diversity of the student body is a compelling state interest.
“Someone told me that things had actually gotten worse since the Grutter decision, and that’s what got us started looking at this,” Mr. Johnson said. “Many people are not aware of the numbers, even among those interested in diversity issues. For many African-American and Mexican-American students, law school is an elusive goal.”